While school cafeterias are generally known for producing such kid-friendly — and unimaginative — fare as pizza and chicken nuggets, creativity has been unleashed this summer as students hone their culinary skills at Maple Place School.
Ten students worked diligently along the stainless steel counters in the Oceanport school's cafeteria on Tuesday, measuring ingredients and mixing the dough for their second batch of cookies that morning, as part of the school's summer enrichment program.
"We've been here all summer," said Terry Finnegan, who teaches the four-week program open to fourth- through eighth-grade students. Each week cost $70 along with a $15 equipment fee.
This week, the focus is on cookies, and 12-year-old Gabby Scerbo and Maggie Harvey, 9, were busy mixing eggs and cake mix to create pinwheel cookies.
Across from the big, industrial-sized baking ovens, Lizzy Welsh, 12, packed up banana thumbprint cookies, which were baked earlier that morning, in plastic containers.
While most students participating are Oceanport residents, Finnegan said there were a few from West Long Branch and Monmouth Beach.
Aside from cookies, Finnegan offered courses this summer focusing on Italian cuisine (think lasagna and tiramisu brownies); silly snacks (cinnamon twists and pigs-in-a-blanket) and cake mix magic.
Finnegan will return to Maple Place in September to teach a Life Skills course (the old Home Ec) to fifth- through eighth-grade students, which she taught for 13 years until the class was eliminated in 2010.
The most popular cooking week: "Silly snacks," said Finnegan.
"Why? I don't know," she said.